Politics

'We're back again. We want justice': Activists hold vigil on Parliament Hill for missing and murdered women

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told activists gathered on Parliament Hill Tuesday for missing and murdered Indigenous women that he understands their impatience and frustration.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tells crowd things can't change overnight

Trudeau attends vigil for missing and murdered indigenous women 1:47

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told activists for missing and murdered Indigenous women gathered on Parliament Hill Tuesday that he understands their impatience and frustration.

The annual event to honour missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit individuals is a "sad moment of reflection," the prime minister said.

But he disagreed with earlier speakers at the event who expressed frustration at having to return year after year to demand justice from the government.

"I hope that we continue to gather on these steps for as long as Parliament behind me stands... to remember the beautiful sisters that were taken from us and that we weren't able to protect and uphold."

"But I hope in the coming years that we will be able to do it as a remembrance of things past and not as a reflection of an ongoing national tragedy that continues," Trudeau said, flanked to his left and right by Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and Status of Women Minister Patty Hajdu — the ministers tasked to oversee the national inquiry launched in August.

Parliament failed to uphold the values and principles it was supposed to defend, Trudeau said. The original trusts that were built between the Indigenous people and those who arrived were broken, he said.

"This is not something that we'll be able to change overnight, or in a week or a month or in a year. It is something that we are going to have to commit to work on every day," he said. "And it's not something that a prime minister or a government can do on their own."

Bennett said things were moving slowly because those involved with the inquiry were carefully examining earlier reports and evidence first. However, Parliament would not wait for the conclusion of the inquiry to take action, she said.

Wilson-Raybould said the challenge of meeting the day-to-day needs and realities of Indigenous communities — based on a "nation-to-nation relationship" — was putting "huge, welcomed" pressure on the government, requiring a lot of work on both sides.

The justice minister, who is a former First Nations leader from B.C., said that she was proud to be working on the evolution of this relationship.

'Shouldn't have to beg'

Native women's activists have been organizing vigils across Canada dating back to 2006. They expressed frustration Tuesday that nothing has changed.

Inuk artist Annie Pootoogook, who was found dead in the Rideau River in Ottawa last month, was among the hundreds of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls mourned on Parliament Hill Tuesday. (Chloé Fedio/CBC News)

Algonquin Bridget Tolley said she's been fighting for justice in the case of her mother for 15 years.

"We're back again," she said about the annual commemoration Oct. 4. "We want justice. We don't want to be here anymore. We shouldn't have to be here. We shouldn't have to beg for justice."

Tolley said that the recent conduct of the Ottawa police, including a social media post by an officer that's been called racist about the death of Inuk artist Annie Pootoogook, emphasizes the "long, hard journey" activists face.

Pootoogook never went near water, and yet her body was found in the Rideau River — proof, activists say, that the police shouldn't dismiss the possibility of foul play and should take seriously their suspicions.

"I'm tired of government. I'm tired of their words," said Mohawk Beverley Jacobs, the former president of the Native Women's Association of Canada.

"I want to see something done for families. Something that they can feel that something is being done and their own justice is being addressed," she said, adding that justice may be different for different people.